Another year have passed since we last enjoyed great performances from bands, the sun, beer, good food and meeting up with lots of friends at Sweden Rock Festival – a highlight of the year for me. I always have a blast down in Sölvesborg during those four days and last year was no exception. However, I must say that a red flag appeared when SRF decided to increase numbers of tickets, officially because of Iron Maiden being such a huge draw. Probably true albeit I’m guessing the fact that booking agency Live Nation now is involved has quite a lot to do with that as well. It was too crowded last year and I heard lots of voices saying that SRF was over for their part because of that. Well, it was even worse this year and the queues outside the main entrance were at times colossal – I heard some people saying they had been stuck in them for up to an hour. Not ok. How many tickets that were sold this year can only be speculated upon but it felt like lots more than last year. That’s not the way to go if they want to keep their true costumers.
A year have passed since we last took our stuff and moved down to Sölvesborg and Sweden Rock for four days. To not visit the festival is not an option for me/us and this year it was 15 years since the first time I visited the place. To me Sweden Rock isn’t only about the music, it’s also four days of vacation, meeting up with friends you hardly see otherwise, partying and inhaling the positive atmosphere of the place that has been there from day one. And hopefully we get to see the sun as well. This year we sure did get great weather, it was more or less cloudless, hot and even the nights were warm – just the way I love it. Few things beat watching a great band in the sun while having a cold one in your hand. Or as in our case at times, sitting outside our cabin, blasting on music, talking and laughing and drinking when there were no band worth watching. Yes, folks, 2018 was indeed a killer festival by many standards.
Since the demise of Väsby Rock Festival a few years ago, a Rock festival in Stockholm is something I have missed – and is much needed. Therefore the news of another festival in Sweden’s capital would take place was really great. The difference between Rock City and Väsby Rock is that while VRF was more of a miniature Sweden Rock Festival, an outdoors happening RCS is an indoors happening and takes place at Annexet inside the Stockholm Globe Arena, a smaller venue that swallows somewhere around 2000 – 3000 people. The death of VRF was due to poor audience attendance which was a damn shame as it was very professionally organized and since it was easy to get there if you lived around Stockholm, be it by car, bus or train, it was strange that more people didn’t show up. Its biggest problem, however, was that it took place in July, a time where many had gone on vacation or just returned from it with little money to spend.
The day before we took off for Sweden Rock Festival we did like we always do – checked out the weather forecast. It was not a nice read at all – rain, rain, rain and more rain. Sweden Rain Festival 2017. Facebook pictures of friends who had already arrived in Sölvesborg spoke of the same thing – rain! I hate rain. Especially when it decides to join us for SRF. There are few things that can screw up my party mood like rain and also, there’s nothing that can convince me to stand outside watching a band – no matter who said band is – when it’s raining cats and dogs outside, so things didn’t look good at all. Well, when we arrived at Ronneby airport, the sun was shining and it didn’t look as bad as the forecast had told us. Finally at our cabin, we could actually sit outside with our shirts off, soaking up the sun with a cold beer in hand. But it didn’t take long before the dark clouds gathered and even though it didn’t start to rain then, we could all feel it coming. But except for a pretty hard shower the first night, the rain decided to go and bother people elsewhere for the rest of the festival – and not only did we got rid of the rain, we also got three days of hot summer and when the sun comes out to keep us warm, we automatically have a winner. The festival that was supposed to rain away, turned into another one of sunshine, smiles, laughter and lots of great music.
They say time flies. Well, yeah, you can say that again. When we arrived at our home from home down in Norje Boke, it almost felt like we had just packed our stuff and left 2015’s festival. But if the year since last year’s festival had rushed by, it’s nothing compared to how fast the four days at the festival went. But the reason time flies by fast is that you’re having a blast and every Sweden Rock Festival is a blast for me – listening to great bands, drinking shitty beer, hanging in the VIP and meeting up with friends. See, quite a lot of my friends are people I get to meet once a year – down at Sweden Rock. Sure, we keep in touch through Facebook and there might be the odd gig or party night back home, but it’s at Sweden Rock you get to really get to hang out and talk all those wonderful people. To start talking about the organization surrounding the festival is always a pleasure as well because it’s an extremely well-organized festival and it feels like it’s getting a little better every year, not that there are that much to better with it. I really can’t find anything to complain about – maybe the crap beer, but since there are good stuff to digest in the VIP area, it’s something I can live with. The weather was really great as well, except for a bit of rain off and on on the Friday and since 2003 when I first sat my foot at the festival – we’re talking 13 years here – only 2009 and 2010 (if I remember things correctly) came with bad weather, so we’ve been very lucky in that department as well. Other than that, I have nothing but praise for all people involved getting this festival going. Rounds of applauds from me then.
When it comes to the bands being booked here, 2016 will stand out as one of the best for me. I might say that every year, but this year, the number of must-see bands were bigger than ever – something like nine bands a day from Thursday to Saturday, with only few on the first day. But of course, for different reasons, there are always some bands that falls on the way-side – some I damn myself for missing and some of them aren’t any I lose any sleep over. But let’s go through those before we get to the reviews, shall we?
On the first day, the only bands playing I really wanted to see was Saffire and Eclipse, both from Sweden. Ex- White Lion singer Mike Tramp was playing but I was never a big fan so I didn’t bother and the same can be said Of Diamond Head, they just don’t interest me enough and Blind Guardian are band I couldn’t care less about so nothing to write home about there either. I did miss Saffire which bugged the crap out of me. But since we didn’t manage to get an early flight down to Sölvesborg and we had to do some shopping (food and beer) plus it took some time to get our festival wrist bands and Saffire started playing at 3.30, there was nothing I could do about it. Bummer. But I did watch a bit of Tribulation, a death / black metal band from Sweden just because some friends forced us over there and they were ok, very melodic and even catchy and I even got a bit of a glam vibe from them. I also managed to catch the Graham Bonnet Band for a few songs. Since I was never a huge fan of the old Rainbow / MSG / Alcatrazz singer I hadn’t planned on watching his gig, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised – ha sang way, way better than I had expected. Besides, when I saw the set list, I regretted missing so much of his gig.
I wonder how many people out there thought that after the first Väsby Rock Festival, back in 2013, that this festival would still be here two years later? Not that the festival was bad by any means, quite the contrary, but the fact is that there are as many festivals out there as there are mushrooms in the woods and the competition is really tough. This festival also takes place when many people are on vacation, meaning that both time and money can be short. The first year was clearly set by a tight budget and mostly Swedish bands were booked. The festival was only on for one day and the price was very cheap. But already by the second year the organisers had added one more day and the whole festival felt more “real”, with a real VIP section, a larger festival area and frankly, the whole thing felt like a miniature version of Sweden Rock Festival. Everything was there, the market and the food stands, but more intimate. They had also managed to book some really cool bands with bigger headliners such as Europe and Candlemass. How many tickets that were sold last year isn’t something I want to – or can – speculate in, but the Europe gig was pretty crowded. This year, however, the line-up was thinner. Of course, that depends on your taste in music, but the fact is, there was no big headliner that would draw the extra few thousand that could make VRF climb another step on the festival ladder. Let’s face it, it is pretty cool to have a band like WASP visiting a smaller suburb like Upplands Väsby, but WASP doesn’t draw a huge crowd. If they would tour Sweden alone they would draw a crowd less than 500 people, so it’s pretty easy to do the maths. Europe draws ten times as many people. So it was up the VRF organisation to put faith in people’s good-will and that there were enough rockers out there that has a music taste that synchronizes with this year’s line-up. And it sure didn’t help VRF that Live Nation decided to put up a free festival right in the middle of Stockholm on the same two days as VRF. That much for helping small festival organisers to survive in the already tough climate. VRF is hardly a threat to Live Nation so the stunt is not ok one bit. Shame on you, Live Nation!
The fact that Väsby Rock Festival announced their second coming was really good news. Last year, the attendance rate could have been higher, but since it was the first year the festival no one could really have expected that it would draw thousands and thousands punters to the game. Still, they did a good job with booking some really cool bands and the whole thing ran pretty smooth when you consider the tight economic situation. How much money that the arrangers lost on that festival is not anything I want to speculate on, but that there wasn’t a profit is pretty clear – they only drew 1500 attenders after all. This year, everything about the festival had improved. First, it was decided that the festival would run for two days instead of one – a good choice, in my book. What wasn’t a good choice, though, was to only sell tickets for two days – something that changed the same week the festival would take place. Yes, the price for a ticket wasn’t that high, but it doesn’t really matter because if you only have the possibility to attend one day, you don’t want to pay for two days, no matter how low the ticket prices are. The risk you run by doing so is that you might lost an attendee completely instead of having him / her there one day. Also, the festival starts on a Friday which means that some people might work that day. Well, the good news is that the started to sell one day tickets after a while so I guess all that sorted itself out. Other than that, I have no complaints at all, except for maybe a toilet or two more for the VIP area. This year, the whole festival area was a lot bigger than last year’s, with more food stands and places for buying cold beverages. When it comes to the beer that was being sold there, maybe an additional label or two would be a good idea as the Norrlands Guld (a real gross Swedish “beer”) is more or less undrinkable after two days. The cues to the food, drink and merch stands were also short so that the cue time were close to minimal. Kudos to the arrangers that were visible out on the festival area through out the whole festival and despite at tight, and I guess, a pretty stressful schedule never said no to exchange a few words to the audience – everything done with a smile. Applause for that.
A year has passed and now it’s June again, which equals Sweden Rock Festival. And just as sure as the sun will rise, me and my friends will head down to Sölvesborg, Blekinge to join the festivities once more. This year, a bunch of us decided that we would fly down from Stockholm instead of going by car and now when the festival is over, decision has been made: No more driving. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive, but I gladly pay a bit more for a 45 minute ride instead of 6 hours. Back at the festival, not that much has changed, only a few improvements had been made. The bar counters had been made longer and more personnel had been hired to minimize the cues and that, I must say, really worked out great. Last year, SRF opened 6 beers a second and their goal was to better that this year. But not so much in the VIP area. To hire bleach blonde chicks with huge racks as bartenders might me a cool idea, but I’d rather have experienced bartenders. People could be left hanging by the bar for ages without any of the girls taking any notice, while watching someone else coming right in and getting served right away. They were clueless of who hade been waiting the longest and the only time you got a real good service there was when you got served by some of the older staff. But that’s about the only complaint I have. Also, a water leak made sure that the whole of Norje (which is the place where SRF takes place) were out of water for half of the Friday. Nothing worked. The toilets, the showers… and it was a hot day as well. Luckily enough they fixed it pretty quickly.
In a time when festivals are popping up like weeds on your newly mowed lawn, at least in Sweden, one might wonder if we’re actually crying out for yet another one. Also, many festivals come around, stay for a couple of years or so and then disappear! The whole thing is pretty simple, you can only afford to go to so many festivals a year and as many of them take place on weekdays, you also need the time off work and many people, especially those who have families, might not want to spend their whole vacation at festivals. Still, the fact that Upplands Väsby, a suburb of Stockholm and by many hailed as the hard rock capital of Sweden, should have its own festival doesn’t really come as a shock. It’s more strange that it took so long for a festival to pop up there, I think.
The reason Upplands Väsby has a good reputation when it comes to hard rock music is of course because Sweden’s biggest hard rock band ever, Europe, call it their home town. Also bands like H.E.A.T. and musicians like Opeth (and ex Talisman, ex Arch Enemy) guitarist Fredrik Åkesson are Väsby natives. But it’s not only the bands. Väsby has always bred lots and lots of rock fans, so the fact that some rock enthusiasts would try to create Väsby’s own festival isn’t far-fetched at all.
In my book, June equals Sweden Rock Festival. And for many years, Sweden Rock Festival used to equal great weather. But the years 2009 – 2012 has provided us with mostly rain, cold winds and dark clouds. However, this year it looked like the weather gods were smiling at Sölvesborg. For four days, I hardly saw any clouds and the sun was shining on us with no mercy – and I loved every second of it.
That meant that the beer was flowing so fast that we actually got ourselves cold ones, which hasn’t always been the case. As a matter of fact, they almost ran out of beer and had to order more from Stockholm for the last day of the festival. The only downside is that they still won’t provide the attendants with decent beer. Sure, we now have three different kinds of beer, but it really doesn’t matter as they are all pretty crappy beer. Zeunerts and Fagerhult are at least drinkable, something that Sofiero isn’t. The backstage bar also had some kind of decent IPA on draft, which was nice. Other than the beer labels I really don’t have anything to complain about. There are lots of toilets around the area and you never run short of food either, there are a little something for everyone there.